Plans for $90 million Wareham elementary school reviewed ahead of Town Meeting vote
Wareham Public Schools officials reviewed plans for a proposed $90 million elementary school on Monday night ahead of an Oct. 22 Town Meeting vote.
The forum at Wareham Middle School auditorium was sponsored by the Wareham School Building Committee and featured designers and builders speaking about the project. About 20 people attended, curious to find out more about the proposal. Another forum on the project was held Oct. 13 in the Wareham Free Library
Voters at the Oct. 22 Town Meeting will be asked to place a question on the local ballot in the Nov. 6 general election. If approved, Wareham voters will be asked to approve spending an estimated $40 million to build and equip a new consolidated elementary school to replace the Decas and Minot Forest elementary schools.
Minot Forest School, which was closed this summer, and Decas School were built in the 1960s. Officials said both are plagued by structural and other issues. In weighing a renovation option, which would not be eligible for state reimbursement, officials noted it would cost taxpayers more money and not address overcrowding.
Tentatively named the Decas School at Minot Forest, the new school would be built at the site of the current Minot Forest School. The 159,000-square-foot, three-story building would be designed to educate 1,020 students from kindergarten through Grade 4. The new school would cost a total of $90 million. With the state committed to contributing $50 million, the $40 million represents the town’s share.
To fund the project, residents will be asked to approve a “debt exclusion” to the tax-limiting Proposition 2-1/2. Unlike an “operational override” such as voters failed to approve several years ago, a debt exclusion raises property taxes only for as long as is needed to repay a specific debt and only for as long as is needed to repay the debt. In this case, an increase in taxes would be used to repay $40 million over 20 years.
For those who pay property taxes, that would mean an 82-cent increase in annual taxes for each $1,000 of assessed valuation. Someone with a home value of $258,000 - the median figure for a single-family home in Wareham – would see taxes increase $211.56 per year. To calculate a tax increase for an individual property, click on this link.
The $90 million cost includes furnishings and technology for the school, moving services, architect fees, inspection fees, traffic studies and the removal of hazardous material from the site during demolition. The fields, playgrounds and parking lots at the school will also be resurfaced within the $90 million, which also includes an allowance for any unexpected increases in construction costs. Due to state law, once the state accepts an estimate from the School Building Committee that number cannot be increased.
On Monday, Denis Daly of of Mount Vernon Group Architects, the firm hired to design the building went over plans. Daly said plans call for placing pre-kindergarten students on the first floor along with offices for administrators. Second floor plans call for housing first and second grade classrooms along with a community space. Third floor plans place third and fourth grade classrooms there along with a “maker space” for technology, science and mathematics lessons.
A key feature of the new school is a cluster design that groups students together with open areas designed to foster collaboration, said Daly.
“In each area, one large pull out area for project-based learning areas will be included where children and teachers can work on projects together,” said Daly. “It becomes a learning village.”
He noted an “innovation hub” on the third floor will be another feature of the new building.
“We’re taking the idea of a library or media center to the next level and anticipating being able to provide all the types of space you need for science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics,” said Daly. “This becomes a very vibrant activity center for all the children in the school.”
Chad Crittenden of PMA Consultants, the firm hired to help guide the design process, said there is no shortage of applicants for the state’s reimbursement program. Roughly 150 districts apply each year, said Crittenden. Wareham had applied for several years before being accepted into the program. If voters say “no” to the project, then the process will have to start over without state funding, a process that state officials estimate would take about seven years. Or officials will have to find other ways to make repairs to the two elementary schools, paid 100 percent with local tax dollars.
For more information on the proposed school visit www.newschool.warehamps.org.
Town Meeting is scheduled for Oct. 22 at 7 p.m. in the Wareham High School auditorium. All registered voters may participate.